December 1, 2014

Doctor Who: "The Screaming Jungle"

It's 25 April 1964, and time for more Doctor Who. This week, it's part three of "The Keys of Marinus": "The Screaming Jungle".

With the Doctor having travelled ahead, Ian, Barbara and Susan - along with their new companions Sabetha and Altos - explore a dangerous jungle in the hunt for the next key. When Barbara falls victim to a mechanised trap, Susan and her new friends go on ahead while Ian attempts to rescue her.

This is the 23rd episode of Doctor Who in a row, produced on a gruelling weekly schedule, so for this episode William Hartnell was given a much-needed week off from work. Given his increasingly bored performances in the last few episodes it can only have been for the best. I look forward to seeing if his Doctor is re-energised in the next episode. While Hartnell relaxed for a few days the rest of the cast made this. Move over "Blink": this is the first "Doctor-light" episode ever made.

Sadly it's all rather generic and dull. Susan gets menaced by some prehensile vines and screams. Barbara gets stuck in an obvious trap. Sabetha and Altos both appear so briefly, it's as if Terry Nation was simply making this serial up as he went along and didn't have a clue what to do with them once he'd added them to the cast. Actually, scratch the "what if" part: I would bet money that Nation made this stuff up as he went along. Episode 1 was a random episode on a desert island, episode 2 was a random episode in a mind-controlled city, and now episode 3 is a generic story of intelligent plant life attempting to kill the regular cast.

Edmund Warwick guest stars as the episode's only other character, the monk-like Darrius, who lives just long enough to give Ian and Barbara a random plot clue before dying. He gives a solid performance, and it's actually a shame his role only lasts about ten minutes from first appearance to death scene. Conversely William Russell's performance this week is all over the place. He seems to be playing Ian like he's in a pantomime, something that seems particularly out of place when put alongside Jacqueline Hill's more realistic and grounded performance as Barbara.

This episode feels like padding: Nation has six episodes to write, and doesn't really care what happens in each one. This one did "killer jungle" cliches, and it ends with Ian and Barbara freezing to death on a snowy mountain. Two out of three "Keys of Marinus" episodes have been pretty bad, leading me to suspect this is Doctor Who's first true stinker. Okay, I lie: I've seen this before. I know that it's Doctor Who's first true stinker - I just didn't want to tell you earlier in case you were disappointed.

23 episodes in, and Doctor Who's first season has had 16 good episodes: that's a quality ratio of 70%.

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